Various Artists – Sankeys 20th Anniversary Album
Label: Sankeys Music Score: 7.5/10
Sankeys is not so much a dance-music institution as dance-music institutions. From launching a music venue an old soap factory in Ancoats, Manchester in the summer of 1994 the clubbing brand has, with a few bumps along the way, expanded to off-shoots in Ibiza and NYC. What’s more, not only has it ascended to become one of the most recognisable names in house music, it has done so whilst remaining true to an ethos of uncompromised house music and good-time vibes. Now, like other clubs that have established a strong musical identity over the years and gone onto launch their own labels – such as fabric or Watergate – the honchos at Sankeys have decided that they’re going to try to distil some of their magic into something that clubbers can listen to at home.
Coinciding with the brand’s twentieth anniversary, the label’s inaugural release is a two-disc celebration of Sankey’s past, present and future mixed by the clubs’ current resident Darius Syrossian. Disc one is all about Sankeys of the ‘now’. Recorded live at a Tribal Sessions night in Manchester earlier this year and wholly comprised of Syrossian’s own productions and edits – all of which are previously unreleased but apparently forthcoming on the new label – the mix is a sixteen-track dash through the kind of high energy and sun-kissed house sounds synonymous with Sankeys.
From the rolling bassline of Syrossian’s remix of Green Velvet’s ‘Bigger Than Prince’ the mix twists and turns through grooving techy-flavours (‘Fuel To The Fire’) and classic house sounds (‘Our Rhythm’ and ‘Power To The People’) building towards a climax of dreamy synth-heavy tracks (‘Rise’ and ‘Truth Prevails’). Last track ‘Thank You David’ – a reference, no doubt, to club owner David Vincent – closes the mix in style with warm piano and chords.
Like a lot of compilations in which the DJ relies wholly on exclusive material, there are certain cuts that sound less essential than others. Yet filled with subtle twists and turns, the record’s over-all effect is one of a journey in the classic sense of a house mix. What’s more, as an encapsulation of Syrossian as a producer the disc arguably works better than an artist album. Accompanied by the live PA announcements and audience cheers that have been left on the recording, the disc works to reconstruct the context of a live DJ mix and in doing so captures more than just the Syrossian’s sounds, but the emotions and experiences of being on the dance-floor.
Disc two offers a selection of the tracks that have worked the various floors at Sankeys over the last twenty-years. Opening with tracks from the 1990s such as Thick Dick’s track ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and Deep Creed’ 94‘s ‘Can U Feel It’, Syrosian serves up a selection of house and tech-house that ranges from well-known floor-fillers (Kerri Chandler’s ‘Bar a Thym’) to the less remembered but equally worthy (King Britts’ remix of ‘David’ by Gus Gus). With big tracks from the likes of Loco Dice, Cobblestone Jazz, Luciano, Green Velvet and other big names, it’s a mix that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to dishing out the anthems and, as such, lacks the deftness and shapeliness of the first disc. Yet, on the other hand, for anyone who has spent any part of the last twenty-years attending Sankeys the second disc will offer an hour of intense instant-recall, with each track provoking a different trip down memory lane and buckets of nostalgia.
It is to Syrossian’s credit that he has managed to strike a fine balance between celebrating Sankey’s current sound and its history. The first disc – irrespective of the clubs’ anniversary – offers a strong impression both of the brand’s strengths and Syrossian’s skills, whilst disc two manages to cast an eye back to the club’s past glories without resorting to obviousness or over self-indulgence. And whilst this isn’t going to be a mix that changes the history of house music and which sticks to the traditional conventions of compilations which – arguably – are increasingly less relevant in the age of podcasts, this is two discs of solid house music that manages to capture the exhilaration of a night in Manchester / Ibiza / NYC.